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June/July 2013

Reporting the news you might have missed...

SPECIAL REPORT: FESTIVAL OF NEUROSCIENCE 2013 The Barbican in London, UK is a vast, multi-faceted arts and entertainment centre. The largest building of its type in London, it is known for being at the cutting edge of the performing arts. I didn’t expect neuroscience to fit in well at the home of the London Symphony Orchestra, but I was proved wrong when the British Neuroscience Association’s 2013 Festival of Neuroscience was held there in April. Nearly 2000 scientists attended this major conference, which included one of the most... well...engaging public engagement programmes ever seen at a scientific meeting. Wonder: Art & Science on the Brain was a series of events put together in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust to celebrate the relationship between the arts and neuroscience. It kicked off well in advance of the festival, with a programme of mind-related films and other events beginning in March. Highlights during the festival itself included British celebrity Ruby Wax, who recently embarked on a neuroscience master’s degree, speaking about her experience of depression, and Marcus du Sautoy and DJ James Holden presenting an audiovisual performance lecture exploring consciousness.

There was also a brain-themed street fair, with stalls, interactive games, and demos ranging from body illusions to knitting your own neuron.

The biggest news to come out of the festival was former UK government advisor David Nutt‘s announcement that “insane” laws are delaying a trial he plans to conduct to explore the use of psilocybin – the active ingredient of magic mushrooms – to treat depression. Predictably, a furore erupted in the British press about using illegal drugs for research. But consider this: psilocybin and certain other illegal drugs are heavily regulated ‘schedule 1’ substances because they are judged to have no beneficial uses. But how

on earth are we to know whether they have any medical use when the necessary research is made almost impossible by the existing regulations? Heroin, on the other hand, is ‘schedule 2’ because it has known medical uses, and so research into its effects is easy. It’s a funny old world. What’s genuinely interesting about this story though (politics aside) is the science behind the prediction that psilocybin might be beneficial in the treatment of depression. There are good reasons for thinking this: psilocybin – or rather the substance the body breaks it down into, psilocin – acts on


Scientists, artists, and the general public mingled in the Barbican’s foyers and stairways throughout the four day event, making the festival feel less distanced from the everyday world than other conferences, and more like an integral part of the wider public fascination with neuroscience. With any luck, one day all major conferences will look like this.

PA G E 4 5 • J U N E / J U LY 2 0 1 3 • I S S U E 1 2 • G U R U

(StreetFair) BNA • Atif Saghir


Guru Magazine Issue 12  
Guru Magazine Issue 12  

The Curious Incident... Meet Carly, the autistic girl who didn't speak for 10 years, until one day she picked up her father's laptop. Scienc...